Detroit Dialogue is published by Michigan State University Detroit High School Journalism, a program of the Michigan State University School of Journalism, to provide a platform to showcase the work of student journalists in the city of Detroit. Dialogue has been established as a forum for student expression and as a voice in the uninhibited, robust, free and open discussion of issues.
Digital and print editions of Dialogue should provide a full opportunity for students to inquire, question and exchange ideas. Content should reflect all areas of student interest, including topics about which there may be dissent or controversy.
All work is prepared by students at participating Detroit high schools. Students, who retain full legal rights to the materials they produce, receive advice and training from program staff and mentors throughout the publication process.
Responsibilities of Student Journalists
Student journalists at participating schools are provided pages within the print edition of Dialogue and on the website to showcase their work. Students who work on Dialogue should determine the content of their respective sections and are responsible for that content. These students should:
- Determine the content of the student media;
- Strive to produce media based upon professional standards of accuracy, objectivity and fairness;
- Review material to improve sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation;
- Check and verify all facts and verify the accuracy of all quotations; and
- In the case of editorials or letters to the editor concerning controversial issues, determine the need for rebuttal comments and opinions and provide space therefore if appropriate.
The following types of student expression will not be protected:
- Material that is “obscene as to minors.” “Obscene as to minors” is defined as material that meets all three of the following requirements:
- (a) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the publication, taken as a whole, appeals to a minor’s prurient interest in sex; and
- (b) the publication depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct such as ultimate sexual acts (normal or perverted), masturbation and lewd exhibition of the genitals; and;
- (c) the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
- Indecent or vulgar language is not obscene.
- Libelous material. Libelous statements are provably false and unprivileged statements of fact that do demonstrated injury to an individual’s or business’s reputation in the community. If the allegedly libeled party is a “public figure” or “public official” as defined below, then school officials must show that the false statement was published “with actual malice,” i.e., that the student journalists knew that the statement was false or that they published it with reckless disregard for the truth ? without trying to verify the truthfulness of the statement.
- (a) A public official is a person who holds an elected or appointed public office and exercises a significant amount of governmental authority.
- (b) A public figure is a person who either has sought the public’s attention or is well known because of personal achievements or actions.
- (c) School employees will be considered public officials or public figures in relationship to articles concerning their school-related activities.
- (d) When an allegedly libelous statement concerns an individual who is not a public official or a public figure, school officials must show that the false statement was published willfully or negligently, i.e., the student journalist who wrote or published the statement has failed to exercise reasonably prudent care.
- (e) Students are free to express opinions. Specifically, a student may criticize school policy or the performance of teachers, administrators, school officials and other school employees.
- Material that will cause “a material and substantial disruption of school activities.”
- (a) Disruption is defined as student rioting, unlawful seizures of property, destruction of property, or substantial student participation in a school boycott, sit-in, walk-out or other related form of activity. Material such as racial, religious or ethnic slurs, however distasteful, is not in and of itself disruptive under these guidelines. Threats of violence are not materially disruptive without some act in furtherance of that threat or a reasonable belief and expectation that the author of the threat has the capability and intent of carrying through on that threat in a manner that does not allow acts other than suppression of speech to mitigate the threat in a timely manner. Material that stimulates heated discussion or debate does not constitute the type of disruption prohibited.
- (b) For student media to be considered disruptive, specific facts must exist upon which one could reasonably forecast that a likelihood of immediate, substantial material disruption to normal school activity would occur if the material were further distributed or has occurred as a result of the material’s distribution or dissemination. Mere undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough; school administrators must be able affirmatively to show substantial facts that reasonably support a forecast of likely disruption.
- (c) In determining whether student media is disruptive, consideration must be given to the context of the distribution as well as the content of the material. In this regard, consideration should be given to past experience in the school with similar material, past experience in the school in dealing with and supervising the students in the school, current events influencing student attitudes and behavior and whether there have been any instances of actual or threatened disruption prior to or contemporaneously with the dissemination of the student publication in question.
- (d) School officials must protect advocates of unpopular viewpoints.
- (e) “School activity” means educational student activity sponsored by the school and includes, by way of example and not by way of limitation, classroom work, official assemblies and other similar gatherings, school athletic contests, band concerts, school plays and scheduled in-school lunch periods.
Prior Review & Prior Restraint
The educational goals of student journalism are set back by censorship that silences student voices, squashes creativity and shuts down student-led efforts to identify and solve problems in their community.
That censorship too often starts with prior review, the practice of school administrators — or anyone in a position of authority outside the editorial staff of student media — demanding that they be allowed to read (or preview) copy prior to publication. Prior review leads to prior restraint — when student-produced journalism is inhibited, banned or otherwise restrained from publication.
These forms of censorship — prior review and prior restraint — are educationally unsound practices that can quickly degrade the quality of a journalism program and damage a unique and powerful educational tool in a school. That is why prior review and prior restraint are opposed by all mainstream journalism education and professional journalism organizations.
MSU Detroit High School Journalism strongly discourages administrators at participating schools from practicing these forms of censorship.
Michigan State University, the School of Journalism and participating schools assume no liability for the content of Dialogue, and urge all student journalists to recognize that with editorial control comes responsibility, including the responsibility to follow professional journalism standards.